Embracing the Cross is Superior to ‘Feeling Good’

The cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the intellect makes entrance in to the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the sufferings of the cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the cross. For, as the Apostle says, ‘As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abound by Christ.'”

Isaac the Syrian

It’s obvious that many Christians these days would rather avoid the Cross, go out, and preach ‘You just need to let Christ into your life and everything’ll be okay!’  This ‘feel-good’ Christianity reflects the mentality of our modern times; which seeks pleasure and the feeling of complacency above all else.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s no problem with letting Christ into your life.  But expecting Christ to solve your problems and eliminate your suffering is not faith, it’s pleasure-seeking, and that’s not what it means to have faith or seek wisdom.  To know Christ is so much more than just feeling good because you simply had an immediate encounter or passionate moment with the Divine.  We will call a direct encounter with God by the word the Ancients used: Theoria, or Divine Vision.

Yet, Mark the Ascetic bluntly states that “Unless a man gives himself entirely to the Cross, in a spirit of humility and self-abasement; unless he casts himself down to be trampled underfoot by all and despised, accepting injustice, contempt and mockery; unless he undergoes all these things with joy for the sake of the Lord, not claiming any kind of human reward whatsoever – glory or honor or earthly pleasures – he cannot become a true Christian.”  Without the Cross, one would not be able to reach God; his heart would be incapable of Theoria.  The Cross demands Praxis (Free Activity), which is a good course of action.

Why is acting according to the Cross (Praxis) more important than the feeling of Christ through Theoria?  It’s not that it’s more important, it’s simply the way one must undertake in order to reach the point of Theoria.  It is prideful of man to simply expect God to reveal the divine to Him and for him to think he can comprehend the Infinity of the Cross simply by feeling for it.   It is prideful to place our trust in euphoria and think that we’ve experienced Christ in that moment.  It is prideful to think that it is our divine right, simply because we believe in Jesus Christ, that all we need to do is simply reach out and then we’re going to feel the presence of the divine.

I myself see so many Christians longing to experience Christ, and they reach out to feel Him in some way or another on account of their ‘faith.’ For a brief moment they convince themselves that the momentary passion is that same divine Theoria, and they are foolishly mistaken.  They leave and immediately turn away from this momentary faith when the pleasures of this world, made manifest in a seemingly spiritual manner, fade and disappear.  These are not fiery souls; these are souls who try to grasp the infinite and are appalled when they cannot reach it, these are souls who do not know the depths of the Spirit.  Letting the Spirit move through you is not a passionate thrust for the divine, nor a prideful seeking of gifts that are ours by right.

Symeon the New Theologian expresses the foolishness of this search, for “If you know that all visible things are a shadow and all pass away, are you not ashamed of playing with shadows and hoarding transitory things? Like a child you draw water with a bucket full of holes; do you not realize it and take it into account, my dear friend? As though there were nothing more serious than appearance and illusion, as though reality has been taken from them.” 

People construct an image out of an illusion that they themselves have created rather than turning towards the Cross.  They even create false ideas regarding the Cross, and listen to these modern teachers who console and educate them in their pleasure-seeking; yet Symeon also points out that “A blind person who undertakes to guide others is a deceiver plunging into the pit of destruction those who follow him. As the Lord said: ‘if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.”

These moderns discard the Fathers of the Church; they create their own version of Christianity that suits their own needs and wants, and they attempt to justify their pleasures with meaningless vocabulary.

You can’t comprehend the Infinite intellectually.  It’s not possible to even comprehend the Infinite at all without humility.  Isaac the Syrian defined this humility, this man of Praxis

A humble man is never rash, hasty or perturbed, never has any hot and volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm. Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble man would not be dismayed. Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet. There is no humble man who is not self-constrained; but you will find many who are self-constrained without being humble. This is also what the meek humble Lord meant when He said, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ [Matt 11:29]  For the humble man is always at rest, because there is nothing which can agitate or shake his mind. Just as no one can frighten a mountain, so the mind of a humble man cannot be frightened. If it be permissible and not incongruous, I should say that the humble man is not of this world. For he is not troubled and altered by sorrows, nor amazed and enthused by joys, but all his gladness and his real rejoicing are in the things of his Master. Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderate voice; mean speech; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed towards the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistributed senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of a hatred of this temporal life; patient endurance of trials; deliberations that are ponderous, not light, extinction of thoughts; guarding of the mysteries of chastity; modesty, reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance. 

This is the fiery man who, though he appears cold to the outside world, meditates and focuses his life on that of Our Lord and the Cross.  He bears his Cross willingly and climbs Calvary alongside his Master.  And this is the fulfillment that all of these pleasure-seekers cannot fathom; by embracing the suffering of this world, one truly makes himself open to the Infinite.  This Praxis in experiencing the Cross in his own life through his joys and sorrows prepares the man in his heart to receive the Divine Spirit.

St. Macarius the Great puts this very eloquently:

Whatever the soul may think fit to do itself, whatever care and pains it may take, relying only upon its own power, and thinking to be able to effect a perfect success by itself, without the co-operation of the Spirit, it is greatly mistaken. It is of no use for the heavenly places; it is of no use for the kingdom – that soul, which supposes that it can achieve perfect purity of itself, and by itself alone, without the Spirit. Unless the man who is under the influence of the passions will come to God, denying the world, and will believe with patience and hope to receive a good thing foreign to his own nature, namely the power of the Holy Spirit, and unless the Lord shall drop upon the soul from on high the life of the Godhead, such a man will never experience true life, will never recover from the drunkenness of materialism; the enlightenment of the Spirit will never shine in that benighted soul, or kindle in it a holy daytime; it will never awake out of that deepest sleep of ignorance, and so come to know God of a truth through God’s power and the efficacy of grace.

This mentality contrasts the life of our modern pleasure-seeker, who seeks comfort and pleasure above all else.  It is not to say that some of these things are always wrong, but they are not the means to which we should define our faith by.  The real mentality in which we should approach our faith is sharpened by the Cross of Jesus Christ, a sign not just for a moment in time, but an Infinite sign beyond our simple notions beginning and end, and we cannot compartmentalize to passion or thought; Theoria without Praxis is not Godlike but dead and demonic.  Anthony the Great said that “One who knows oneself, knows God: and one who knows God is worthy to worship Him as is right. Therefore, my beloveds in the Lord, know yourselves. Thus my friends, seek Christ in all that you do; make the cross a part of your life by embracing your own.

“And calling the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

It is not man who should reach out and expect that he will find God; it is man who should prepare his heart for God to reach out to him.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a post on the author’s blog.

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Joshua Nelson attended Franciscan University of Steubenville to earn a BA in Philosophy and a Minor in Finance, along with attending the University of Michigan for a Masters in Accounting. He has a deep love and passion for the re-emerging philosophy of Stoicism, and believes it applicable to many aspects of our modern Catholic life, especially when it comes to bringing the supernatural into our ordinary routines. As an elected part-time Township Trustee, he serves his community by trying to bring his uniquely Catholic perspective into both his private and public life.

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